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The Role of the Sustainable Development Goals in Turkey's EU Admission - Nur Durmaz


For many problems that countries are exposed to be solved on common ground, United Nations member countries are one step closer to the goals and solutions with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Countries that have agreed on 17 issues that negatively affect people globally take universal action to provide accessible and clean energy to people, eradicate poverty, protect the climate and nature, and ensure that all people live in peace and prosperity by 2030 to leave a better future for future generations. According to the SDG index, Turkey is the 70th country among 165 countries implementing the SDGs in 2021.


The European Commission has published country reports to Turkey and other candidate countries every year since 1998, showing whether they comply with the Copenhagen criteria. These reports are unilateral documents showing the comments and evaluations of the European Commission. Turkey responds to these reports with press releases and feedback to the European Commission. The country report is the basic structure for Turkey's accession to the European Union. It includes the problems of countries on many issues and their progress in solving these problems. These problems intersect with the Sustainable Development Goals at many points. Some of these problems are SDGs 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 7 (Accessible and Clean Energy), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life in the Water), and 15 (Life on Land).


SDG 6 aims to improve water quality worldwide by reducing water pollution, eliminating unregulated landfills, minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and substances, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and greatly increasing recycling and safe reuse. Unfortunately, Turkey remains stagnant in this regard. According to the 2021 EU country report, Turkey has not yet harmonized with the EU Drinking Water Directive. The Drinking Water Directive concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption. Its purpose is to protect human health from the negative effects of any pollution or chemicals by ensuring that water intended for human consumption is healthy and clean. Turkey is advanced in chemicals but weak in implementation and enforcement. Turkey is only partially compliant with the Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council (REACH) on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals. In addition, the increase in the wastewater treatment capacity with the 1,134 wastewater treatment plants established in the country is a continuous investment, and 87% of the population has been reached with these plants. Turkey aims to reach 100% of the population by 2023.


However, Turkey's alignment with the EU Maritime Strategy needs to be sustained. The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) has been implemented to protect the marine ecosystem and biodiversity on which our health and marine economic and social activities depend. This is closely related to the 14th SDG. The purpose of SDG 14 is to prevent and reduce all kinds of marine pollution, especially from land-based activities, including marine waste and nutrient pollution. It aims to strengthen the resilience of water resources, manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems sustainably, avoid significant negative impacts, and take action for their restoration to obtain healthy and productive oceans. Unfortunately, it is seen that Turkey still has serious problems in terms of SDG 14 and remains stagnant in this regard. As the EU Commission has stated, Turkey has lagged in this regard. To put its name higher on the list in the SDG index and become a member of the EU, it needs to pay more attention to these issues.


The European Union attaches importance to terrestrial areas as well as sea and water. According to the report, Turkey has a certain level of preparedness for nature protection. However, no progress has been made in adopting the national biodiversity strategy and action plan. Planning and zoning in wetlands, forests, and natural sites are still not in line with the EU acquis. The institutional framework needs to be activated and adequately resourced to manage future Natura 2000 sites. Reviewing the status of protected areas continued throughout 2020 without transparency and participation, resulting in changes in the status and boundaries of some potential Natura 2000 areas. Natura 2000 is a core network of breeding and resting areas for rare and threatened species and some rare natural habitat types protected in their own right. The network aims to ensure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats listed under both the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. In this regard, SDG 15 plays a key role. SDG 15 aims to protect, restore, and sustainable the use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and services, particularly forests, wetlands, mountains, and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements. Looking at the EU report and the SDG level instrument panel, Turkey, needs to pay more attention to protecting ecosystems and endangered species and be more careful in this regard.


Changing the ecosystem and environmental pollution have an important role in climate change. As climate change increases, ecosystems will continue to deteriorate. Therefore, both the EU and the SDGs have included climate change in a separate article. This issue is explored in SDG 13. SDG 13 aims to improve resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters. Signing the Paris Agreement is one of the most important moves. As of April 2018, 175 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, and 168 countries have submitted their first nationally determined contributions to the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat framework convention. According to the EU report, Turkey has a certain level of preparedness in this area, facing critical environmental and climate challenges in both mitigation and adaptation. While some progress has been made, important advice has been given in response to the road taken. One of these advances is the ratification of the Paris Agreement by the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international agreement on climate change. Work needs to continue on decarbonization and adaptation plans and the necessary legislation to reflect these at the national level. Unfortunately, OECD countries have remained more passive in SDG 13 than other countries.


In the EU chapter on energy, Turkey is prepared on some parts. However, by next year, Turkey needs to formulate and legalize more transparent, cost-based, and non-discriminatory prices for natural gas. Therefore, the natural gas market needs to be developed in-depth, with a binding plan and timetable. This allows the Natural Gas Market Law to be updated and thus aligns with the EU's Third Energy Package. This package draws attention to the competitiveness of natural gas and electricity markets. It means the liberalization of markets, the ability of consumers to choose their markets as they wish, and the indiscriminate access of all countries and people to energy, especially for the natural gas and electricity sectors. Even if SDG 7 does not contain a clause about the free choice of energy suppliers, its objectives are to ensure universal access to affordable, secure, and modern energy services to significantly increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. To improve international cooperation and encourage investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology to facilitate access to business and clean energy research and technology, including cleaner fossil fuel technology. Compared with the EU report, it is possible to see that it has similar contents. According to the EU Commission, Turkey has made limited progress in the domestic energy market regarding transparent, payment-oriented, and non-discriminatory pricing for electricity and natural gas. However, after the strategies put into action on the most efficient use of renewable and domestic energy resources, the country's share in renewable energy obtained from hydroelectricity increased from 29% to 44% in 2020. The total renewable energy facilities ratio increased from 45% to 51%. This shows that Turkey is moderately active regarding the increase and accessibility of renewable energy.


SDGs and EU Commission country reports are compared, it is possible to see that their wishes for global problems are similar. It is possible to see that the goals of international organizations and countries always move in the same direction, whether it is to increase the ranking in the SDG country index or to try to finish the chapters to enter the EU. If Turkey proceeds on a certain route, it will fulfill two purposes, and more prosperous life can be provided to people.